Equally shrouded in legend was the tragic end of the Chinese poet, politician and patriot Qu Yuan. Qu Yuan lived in the third century BC in the kingdom of Chu in central China. This period was one of great turmoil, with the various states that would become modern China involved in wars and conquests of each other. Qu Yuan advised his king not to attack the neighboring kingdom of Qin, as he feared the effect of reprisals on the Chu. But the king was dissuaded from heeding his wise minister by others who were jealous of Qu Yuan’s’ influence. Qu Yuan was banished- and the Chu attacked Qin.
The Qin general, Bai Qi, retaliated and attacked and conquered the Chu. In 278BC, he captured the Chu capital and deposed Qu Yuan’s’ king. Bai Qi again exiled Qu Yuan. The ex-minister tried to console himself with poetry, but his depression over the conquest of his beloved country was deep.
Some accounts say that the final blow to Qu Yuan came when he realized the ordinary people of Chu didn’t much care about their conquest. One king was very much the same as another to them. Others believe it was the continued slanders against his reputation that wore him down.
But either way, Qu Yuan finally waded into the River Miluo, weighed down with a rock and drowned himself. People never found his body. But anxious local villagers paddled out in boats to try and save him. When they realized they were too late, they attempted to drive away fish from his corpse by tossing rice into the river and agitating the waters. The annual Dragon Boat Festival serves as a commemoration of the race to save the suicidal Qu Yuan on the anniversary of his death.